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Ofsted, inspect thyself


AGAINST a background of rising pupil numbers, the teaching profession is disintegrating. A few months ago a poll by the National Education Union (NEU) discovered that around a fifth of teachers were planning to leave the job within two years. Over two-fifths did not see themselves lasting more than five years.

In London things are even worse, with nearly half of newly qualified teachers quitting within five years.

Now Ofsted has come up with a ‘research report’ that seeks to diagnose the causes of the problem. It begins with this observation:

According to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive, teaching staff and education professionals report the highest rates of work-related stress, depression and anxiety in Britain.

This contrasts somewhat with the government’s recruitment campaign:

Every day you’ll get the chance to inspire young people and use your skills to give something back – making sure every pupil gets the same access to a quality education and the opportunity to succeed.

The government’s job description, clearly, does not match reality for many teachers. According to Ofsted, only 43 per cent of teacher-time is spent teaching. Even when we add time for lesson planning (13 per cent) and marking (11 per cent) we are still left with around a third of a teacher’s work being devoted to the roles of social worker, psychiatrist, counsellor, police officer, nurse, addiction-rehabilitator, political-correctness enforcer and so on. In other words, teachers are required to be nannies for our ever-growing nanny state.

The role of biological ‘parents’ is increasingly that of an armchair critic of how well the nanny state is doing its job for ‘our kid’. If things go wrong, too many are inclined bombard teachers with email complaints and expect an instant response. Ofsted reported this typical reaction from a teacher:

My email inbox is like a pit of death . . . I often receive 50-80 emails per day, even when I am ill.

If emailing does not work, some ‘parents’ resort to more open aggression. It can quickly degenerate into ‘parents’ swearing at teachers in front of children and an escalation into what Ofsted describes as a ‘mob mentality’ as other parents pile in. Any teacher who dares to discipline an unruly pupil has to be prepared to face the full wrath of an angry ‘parent’. This has become one of the main causes of teacher stress and explains why so many are quitting the job.

Classroom misbehaviour by pupils, often low-level but debilitating, is another major cause of the teacher exodus, complained of by 87 per cent of teachers. It is a reflection of Ofsted’s slow learning curve that it has failed to spot that an over-emphasis on child-centred learning is at the root of the problem.

Teacher-led instruction has for years been marked down by Ofsted inspectors. ‘Good’ and ‘outstanding’ lessons are those where the pupils are in charge and where learning is supposed to take place through group interaction. This is very much at variance with how children are taught in the Asia-Pacific super-star education systems.

This not to say that there is no place in the classroom for some child-centred group work. It does, however, require a high degree of teacher expertise. Making it the universal ‘best practice’ is a recipe for disaster. Much easier, and much more effective, is the ‘whole-class’ teaching approach which was once the norm here and which is today the norm amongst our educational ‘betters’ in Singapore, South Korea and Shanghai.

The latest Ofsted report should, most of all, send a warning to the inspectorate. The guise it presents of neutrality, impartiality and objectivity is disingenuous. Its judgment that this year 85 per cent of schools are good or outstanding is a gigantic lie, as the latest report, albeit obliquely, makes clear. Ofsted has overseen failure and disintegration in our schools for too long. As teachers collapse under the strain, and schools implode under years of misdirection, the time has arrived for Ofsted, the overseer, to be inspected.

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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